Rhino poaching dips slightly in South Africa

An April 2012 photograph of a rhino in the Pilanesberg National Park in South Africa.
An April 2012 photograph of a rhino in the Pilanesberg National Park in South Africa. PHOTO: REUTERS

JOHANNESBURG (AFP) - The number of rhinos killed for their horns by poachers in South Africa dipped slightly in the first half of this year, but more than 500 were still slaughtered, the government announced on Monday (July 24).

South Africa is battling a scourge of rhino poaching fuelled by insatiable demand for their horns in Asia.

Most of the demand is from China and Vietnam, where the horn is coveted as a traditional medicine, an aphrodisiac or as a status symbol.

"A total of 529 rhino have been poached since January 2017, compared to 542 in the same period for 2016, representing a decrease of 13 rhinos," Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa told reporters. "These declining numbers do not mean we can proclaim victory (but) the downward trend is being established, which is cause for cautious optimism."

The famed Kruger National Park, which has suffered the brunt of the slaughter, has so far this year seen a 34 per cent drop in numbers of rhinos killed.

But the poaching has shifted elsewhere with the minister reporting that the "number of rhino poached unfortunately increased in some other provinces".

The number of rhinos killed climbed steeply in the past decade from just 13 in 2007 to a peak of 1,215 in 2014, according to the Traffic wildlife trade monitoring group.

In the last eight years alone, roughly a quarter of the world population of rhinos has been killed in South Africa, home to 80 per cent of the remaining animals.

Rhino horn is composed mainly of keratin, the same substance as in human nails. It is normally sold in powdered form as a supposed cure for cancer and other diseases.